Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Gene and Jackie

Gene Pitney died today. He was a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, on the strength of a career that produced 15 Top 40 hits in America between 1961 and 1969, and many more in England, where he hit Number One as recently as 1989. His biggest American hits were "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" and "Only Love Can Break a Heart," back-to-back in 1962, although many of the obituaries written today also mention "24 Hours from Tulsa" (Number 17 in 1963) and "Town Without Pity" (Number 13 in 1961).

Pitney's high voice and histrionic style makes a lot of his records, with the exception of "Liberty Valance" and "Only Love Can Break a Heart," somewhat painful to listen to. So I am guessing he doesn't get as much play on oldies radio as, say, Roy Orbison--although why Pitney's records should be less appropriate for the format than those by Orbison, who was similarly prone to taking emotional pleadings way over the top, I'm not sure. (Maybe it's because Orbison just seemed so damn cool the rest of the time.) Pitney was not merely one of those manufactured idols of the early 1960s, however. As observes in its biography of him, he was a versatile performer in Orbison's league, singing rock and country crossovers. He didn't write his biggest hits, but he wrote several for other people, including Ricky Nelson's "Hello Mary Lou" and the Crystals' "He's a Rebel." He also recorded songs by Brill Building legends Bacharach/David (who wrote "Liberty Valance") and King/Goffin.

Also from the obituary page--much less-noted--is news about Jackie McLean, a jazz saxophone player who started out with Miles Davis in the early 50s, recorded a string of well-received albums in the 1960s, and later became a jazz educator. He was one of the commentators in Ken Burns' documentary film Jazz, which probably exposed him to more people than his playing career did. Over at Jazz Pour Tous, they've been posting entire McLean albums all week. The site is a bopper's dream come true, with lots of information and music downloads featuring giants, famous and otherwise, largely from the 1950s and 1960s. I'm still a novice jazz fan, but I'm learning a lot over there--and not just about Jackie McLean.


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